Running can be hard on your joints under the best of circumstances, but when you throw bad form into the mix, a one or two mile jog might end up doing more harm than good.
What poor form will ultimately affect is your posture, which in turn will cause your joints to take on stress and bends that they were never made for. That means that running isn’t just about cardiovascular strength and improving your endurance, it’s also about proper posture.
Assessing Your Running Posture
The best way to make a quick assessment of your posture is to think about whether or not you experience sharp pain during or as a result of your run. Now running can definitely make you sore, but that’s not the kind of pain I’m referring to.
Being sore can almost feel good, like you accomplished something and your body is just sending you a friendly reminder saying, “Good job. You worked hard today.”
A sharp unusual pain will not make you feel like that. It’ll feel more like your body is saying, “I respect what you’re trying to do here, but you’re doing more harm than good.”
If you’re having that type of sharp pain, particularly in your joints, you need to take a quick initial look at your running posture. There are a few different things to look at, but we’ll just cover some of the most basic errors and mistakes.
1. Knee Pivoting — What I mean by knee “pivoting” is the way your knees and lower legs can turn slightly either clockwise or counterclockwise. So when you’re just standing, look down at your knees. Are your knees or feet turned to one side or the other? Ideally, they should be pointed straight ahead.
When you’re running, it’s important to be mindful of this and keep your feet and knees pointed straight in front of you. If they tend to pivot drastically, running will make this problem worse and likely cause you problems with your joints.
If the pivot is severe enough, you might consider getting it professionally assessed and corrected by a physical therapist.
2. Slouching (Spinal Column) — This is one of the basics, but a lot of people miss it. When running you need to fight to urge to lean forward or “lean into” your run. Even when you’re tired or running quickly, proper posture is to have your spine straight and your head forward. If you need to look down to avoid tripping, avoid leaning with your torso.
3. Heavy Foot Impact — When you’re running and constantly hitting the ground with your feet, it’s going to be hard on your joints no matter what. However planting your foot at the heel rolling into the step will certainly reduce that impact.
What you’re trying to avoid is a running stomp of sorts, where you plant your foot on the ground so hard that the rest of your legs ends up absorbing the force.
Running should be a smooth unimpeded motion where your feet move along with ground, not directly onto it. Do your best to plant your heel and roll your foot forward through the movement while your other foot is off the ground.
4. Core Tight — It’s hard to maintain throughout the duration of a run, but keeping your core muscles tightened will help keep your spine straight and will sort of hold your posture in place while you’re running. Don’t confuse sucking your gut in with tightening your core. Though the two can coincide, sucking in your gut will feel like holding your breath, which obviously won’t get you very far while running.
To get a feel for core tightening, stand straight up, take your hands and place them on your upper thighs and just press. Don’t bend forward, but allow your core to contract. That’s the feeling you want to aim for while running.
Posture takes time to develop and correct, so don’t be discouraged if it doesn’t feel natural to you right away. While it’s possible you’ve got a lot of ground to make up, running is a great way to get into the habit of keeping proper posture while at the same time improving your endurance.
Adam Johnson is a professional blogger that shares tips and advice on fitness and nutrition. He writes for Fitness 19, a leading fitness center with locations nationwide.